DETROIT – The Kue cross/utility vehicle concept vehicle aims to change the way CUVs are perceived, Kia Motors America says.

Kia unwraps the Kue today at the 2007 North American International Auto Show press preview.

“(The) Kue is designed first and foremost as a driver’s vehicle,” Kia says, noting its emphasis on performance over utility.

In keeping with that directive, the Kue has a DOHC, supercharged 4.6L V-8 engine making 400 hp and 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) of torque.

A full-time all-wheel-drive system provides predictable on-road and off-road driving characteristics, Kia says. The engine is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.

The 4-passenger Kue’s styling hints at the future direction of design for Kia vehicles, Len Hunt, chief operating officer-KMA, says.

Tom Kearns, KMA chief designer, says the future design direction for Kia is “less is more” but with “a heavy dose of boldness to be distinct.”

Penned by KMA, the Kue sports 22-in. wheels pushed to the corners and taut exterior skin, adding draped muscular wheel well flares contrast to other areas of the CUV’s body, which are beveled.

The Kue’s wheelbase is 4.7 ins. (12 cm) narrower than that of the Sedona minivan, at 114.2 ins. (290 cm), but 16 ins. (41 cm) shorter in length, at 186 in. (472 cm).

Sweptback headlights connected to the front grille give the vehicle an aggressive on-road presence, Kia says.

The Kue’s interior reflects the clean, athletic exterior with custom bucket seats, upscale materials and textures and “a mid dark interior theme with highlights,” Kia says.

A programmable interface with touch-pad and motion-sensing controls adjusts the Kue’s audio and climate systems. A separate interface is provided for rear-seat passengers.

Although Kia insists it is strictly a concept, Hunt says the “Kue embodies the next phase of our brand evolution, which will instill pride and passion in our customers through great design.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com